LAWRENCEVILLE - The water Wal-Mart can save by simply changing its toilets is more than just a drop in the bucket.
In response to Georgia's historic drought, the big-box retailer converted thousands of sinks and toilets in 109 Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores in the state to save water.
Michael Mills, the regional director of corporate affairs for the big-box chain, said he expects the changes will amount to a 17 to 20 percent reduction in water used in the stores, or 53 million gallons annually.
"We wanted to minimize our impact on the drought of Georgia," Mills said. "Hopefully, we'll set an example for other businesses."
Mills said the company has begun to change its business model to be more sustainable in the past several years. Its goals include using all renewable energies and producing no waste.
The changes in the bathrooms, which include sensors and other mechanisms to limit water flow, cost $2.2 million, he said. The changes have been made in other drought-affected states and Mills said if they are successful, they would be expanded to the company's stores nationwide.
"We're already seeing some returns," he said. "It's a real impact."
Gwinnett stores in Lilburn, Lawrenceville, Duluth and Suwanee have already had their bathrooms retrofitted since the program began in December, and Mills said the county's other stores should finish in the coming weeks.
The reduction is higher than the 10 to 15 percent required by Gov. Sonny Perdue, Mills said.
"We're excited we could not only meet that, but exceed it," he said.
In Gwinnett, commissioners on Tuesday approved the paperwork necessary to put a $300,000 toilet rebate program into effect.
The county is working with the Metro North Georgia Water Planning District to administer $300,000 worth of rebates to residents who replace toilets installed in homes built prior to 1993 with low-flush and high-efficiency models.
County residents who replace their toilets with the low-flush variety, which use 1.6 gallons per flush, can get a $50 rebate. Those that replace them with high-efficiency toilets, which use 1.28 gallons of water each flush, will get a $100 rebate. Receipts can date back to Sept. 28, 2008.
Lynn Smarr, the acting director of the county's Department of Water Resources, said homes built before 1980 typically have toilets that use 5.5 gallons of water each flush, and those built between 1980 and 1992 have 3.5-gallon-per-flush toilets. Houses built after 1993 use toilets with 1.6 gallon flushes.
For more information on the toilet program, see www.northgeorgiawater.com, call 404-463-8645 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.